How To Get Starbursts

I’ve been asked several times how to make starbursts in photographs, so why not write a blog post about it?  Starbursts (or light bursts) are a property of each lens, whether it be a cell phone’s camera lens, a point and shoot camera, an SLR lens, or any other lens.  This effect is different for each lens and is dependent on the lens design, specifically the number of aperture blades in the lens and the blade shape.  It is for this very reason that I purchased the Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 lens for my crop sensor SLR camera a couple of years ago, since I like this effect in my city photographs.

Getting this effect in your own photos is actually quite simple.  Some think that it is a Photoshop effect, but this is not the case.  All that is done is to select a small aperture in either the aperture priority or manual modes on your camera.  Focusing on the nearest light in the scene will ensure that the star bursts turn out as sharp as possible, enhancing the starburst effect.  On my old crop sensor lenses, both my Sigma 10-20mm and my Tamron 17-50mm, f/14 was the smallest aperture I used to capture starbursts while maintaining good sharpness, but on the new full frame camera body I can use an aperture of f/16 to get great starbursts and sharpness.  Of course, this quality comes at a cost.  If you like this star burst effect, try shooting at different apertures on your camera and notice the different results, both for the starbursts and the level of sharpness at each aperture setting.  Here are three photos, a different one from each of my wide angle lenses.  Note the aperture I used is shown in the caption of each photo.

Morrison Morning Stars - Tamron 17-50mm, f/14

Foggy Steel Bridge Dawn - Sigma 10-20mm, f/14

Steel Bridge, Cold Fog - Canon 16-35mm, f/16